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Candidates differ on Dreamers, pre-K programs at gubernatorial forum on education

Five of Tennessee’s leading gubernatorial candidates met in the Curb Event Center Tuesday for a night of prepared remarks and polite discussion regarding the state’s most pressing education topics.

The five candidates — three Republicans and two Democrats — were largely indistinguishable in their responses to many of the questions fielded during Tuesday night’s forum. They mainly differed in their approaches to solving education issues.

For example, the candidates responded positively to increasing teacher pay, creating more effective testing, improving opportunities for technical schooling and increasing literacy in elementary school students.

Party affiliation did not noticeably appear until well over 40 minutes into the forum, when candidates were asked whether or not they would support access to in-state tuition for DACA recipients.

Bill Lee, a Republican businessman from Williamson County, cited his mission work and “compassion for people everywhere” before offering his position.

“For me, it’s really just an issue of fairness,” Lee said, echoing a September interview with Nashville Public Radio. “It doesn’t seem fair to me that we would offer something in college tuition to an immigrant who is here illegally that we wouldn’t offer to an American citizen from Georgia.”

Former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean, a Democrat, followed Lee with a direct rebuttal, which drew the first of just two outbreaks of applause from the audience.

“These Dreamers are young people who came to our country not of their free will. They were brought here by their parents, many of them were brought here at very early ages,” Dean said. “They grew up here, they went to school here, they have family here, they have friends here.”

“And they’re different than Georgians, because they’re Tennesseans — they’re part of our community.”

Tennessee House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh drew the night’s final applause outburst with a similar sentiment.

The forum’s two other Republican candidates, Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell and former Tennessee Economic and Community Development Commissioner Randy Boyd, said they would not grant in-state tuition to DACA recipients.

The night’s only other noticeable disagreement followed a question regarding pre-kindergarten programs. Dean and Fitzhugh resoundingly voiced support for expansion of the programs, while Lee, Boyd and Harwell took more cautious positions.

“There are mixed results on the benefits, long-term, of pre-K programs, but one thing we do know for sure is that if we are going to have pre-K, they need to be high-quality programs, not just babysitting,” Harwell said.

Noticeably absent from Tuesday night’s forum was U.S. Rep. Diane Black, who declined to attend the event because of a scheduling conflict. The Tennessean reported Tuesday night that Black instead attended a campaign fundraising event near 100 Oaks.

Former state Sen. Mae Beavers also missed her scheduled appearance at the forum, after the sudden death of her mother.

To watch the full 2018 Tennessee Gubernatorial Forum on Education, click here.


Photo courtesy of the Office of Communications. 

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